Second best piece of new gear for 2015: new aerobars.
|With carbon extensions, picture from ProfileDesign.com. Aluminum also available. I have both.|
My first aerobars were the Lemond bars marketed by Scott. I mounted them on the Cannondale and wrapped them in leopard-print bar tape. I loved hauling down Rabbit Creek Road in the aero position at what at the time seemed to be the unconscionable speed of 50 mph. (Damon knows Rabbit Creek as the cross-street where we parked for the tune-up ride along Turnagain Arm prior to the 2013 Big Wild Ride.)
|Rabbit Creek descends from Hillside Drive to the Seward Highway at the South end of Anchorage.|
The scary part was passing one cross-street, what name I do not remember, that was gravel but nonetheless well-used. The result was occasional cars to navigate and predictable gravel in the intersection. But above and below that road, it was pure hauling. (I should note that, it's being the '80s, I usually rode without a helmet in those days. I get chills just thinking about it.)
My next aerobars were the ubiquitous Profile Design Carbon Stryke bars, mounted first on the IRO fixie, then on the Novara, and later the Gunnar for triathlon use. The Carbon Stryke were of Profile Design's common species of under-mount bars, with pads mounted just above the base bars and the extensions mounted underneath.
|Carbon Stryke, picture from ProfileDesign.com. I cannot believe they are still selling these.|
If I have a primary gripe, it is the weird bends in the extensions that cause them to flare outward. I gather that means you get a straight forearm position (because the pads sit wide of the mount-points), but no other aerobar made has that design. And I don't like it.
Second problem: those cups and pads, branded the "J19." They are mind-blowingly uncomfortable. Profile Design nonetheless put them on every bar it made from at least 2006 (when I bought the Carbon Stryke) until -- well, it still does, although there is finally an option.
Third problem: the "rise" function on these bars means mounting the cups above the brackets with plastic spacers. Doing so does nothing to clear up the base bars for comfortable riding (because the brackets stay in place) and has the perverse effect of placing the cups too high for the extensions, in effect putting your natural hand position above the end of the bars. Truly the worst of all worlds.
I've also tried stubby aerobars, including the PD T2+ DL. Going for them is the above-bar mount option, giving a slight ability to squeeze the hands underneath to encounter the base bars.
|In their favor: they actually look good on a road bike in a way full-length extensions do not.|
|T2+ DL mounted on the old Cervelo prior to the National 24-hour, 2013.|
The T2+ DL were just never comfortable over long miles.
|Not the perfect place for your arms to contact the bars. At the Mid-Atlantic 12-hour, 2014.|
And finally, the floppy-cup version that clears the base bars for comfortable riding in touring applications. These are incredibly heavy and those springs wear out, causing them to rattle.
|Sam has ridden these successfully in a number of events. I have never particularly liked them.|
In the high-end aerobar market, by which I mean "the aerobars that actually work well": being cheap, I skipped over innovation after innovation. I got to where aerobars seemed a necessary evil for triathlon use but not something I would voluntarily mount on any bike.
Finally real innovation has found the aerobar market and just when I decided, "f*** it" and ponied up the dollars necessary to get the right bars. (The other innovation to intervene is Amazon, which made the nice PD bars available for what used to be bargain prices.) Enter the T3+:
|T3+ on the Focus prior to the Natchez Trace 444.|
Three innovations that answer every problem from above. First, the bars mount above the base-bars and are sold with variable height risers that move the entire aerobar as much as 80mm above the base bars. (Mine are raised 30mm here, enough to bring them nearly level with the saddle and to clear room for the hands underneath. After substantial back-and-shoulder fatigue in the Natchez Trace 444, I will take that to 50mm for 2016.)
|Pretty sure this is the 50mm rise option.|
Second, they have new cups and pads -- Profile Design is now selling the J4 cup. It is affirmatively comfortable, as in, 27 hours on the bike and no forearm discomfort whatsoever. Same story after the SR600 four weeks earlier. The cups bolt onto the same brackets as the gosh-awful old J19 cups, so I now have these on the triathlon bike as well.
There is actually an uber-cush 2 cm pad, which I have purchased but not yet used, marketed for those cups. You can expect to see me with that on a ride or two this coming year.
|J4 cups and pads. These are actually affirmatively comfortable.|
Third, those double-bend extensions, which first drop down before riding back up to receive the hands. Unlike flat bars, no need to bend the wrists to hold on. Unlike ski bends, no reaching for the sky. The grips are right where the hands naturally encounter them.
|Some makers brand this design "wrist relief." It's an appropriate descriptor.|
I got over the long-bars-on-a-road-bike problem when I tried these the first time. My position here is about the normal "ultracyclists aero position" -- not as tucked as the time trial position but not ridiculously extended, either.
|To a triathlete, those arms are extended a little too far. On a long road, it's about perfect.|
Here's the thing about the new Profile Design aerobars: using aerobars is not a bitter pill. It's a comfortable fourth position (after drops, flats, and hoods). I'm reaching 30 years of riding road bikes for the joy of riding road bikes and this is the first time I've found the aerobars to be something I seek rather than avoid.
End note: PD is not the only maker to have experimented with design, and the primary features of these -- double bend extensions, comfortable pads, well-conceived riser systems -- are now well dispersed. Look at offerings by 3T (reasonably affordable from Merlin)
if you are comparison shopping. (Zipp
used to have a similar offering, but I do not see the double-bend extensions currently listed.)
Conclusion: if you, like me, swore off aerobars because of one too many bad experiences with old Profile Design offerings, it's time to get back in the market. My second best gear purchase in 2015.